Let us wait for Dearing

June 27, 1997

You reported (THES, June 20) that at least ten vice chancellors were opposing the introduction of the Higher Education Funding Council for England's new method for distributing money to universities and colleges for teaching from 1998/99 onwards. The objections are not surprising as they are articulated by representatives of universities that lose money as a result of HEFCE's latest bright idea. No doubt letters are already on the way supporting the proposals from the "winners" under the new system.

These entertaining, but short-term, arguments between institutions that either win or lose under the new system, allow the funding council to carry out its proposals by arguing that the sector is divided and that any opposition can be discounted as only coming from the losers. For the record, the University of Central England neither wins nor loses under the new system, its impact on us is neutral, but I am strongly opposed to the introduction of a new method of funding teaching in 1998/99.

Why? Well the entire sector is only a couple of weeks away from receiving the report of the Dearing committee; potentially the most fundamental review of the sector for 30 years. The principal policy issue upon which Dearing needs to pronounce is the future approach to the funding of teaching. Unless Sir Ron concludes that everything is all right and we just keep going on as before, it makes no sense whatsoever for HEFCE to come up with a new method of funding for 1998/99. Already work is being done, meetings are taking place, computer programs are being checked, all the usual bureaucratic activity, to start preparing for HEFCE's new method. What a waste! It would be infinitely more sensible for HEFCE to recognise that the political reality is that the policy initiative now rests with Sir Ron's committee. HEFCE should abandon its proposals for a new system from 1998/99 and work with the rest of higher education to develop a comprehensive long-term system that is fully consistent with the policies from Ron's review!

Peter C. Knight

Vice chancellor

University of Central England

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